by BOB CHAMPA
I saw Father Larry the day he passed away. What a special man he was, to have so many friends and family visiting in those last days. We took turns holding his hands and talking to him. I knew he could hear us because he would respond to Linda and Father Perk...the Earthly shepherd, even still, tending his flock.
As I left the Cities and traveled home, I couldn't help but think of Father's hands. They were always clean. His nails were well-manicured and his fingers looked so "perfect." What else would one expect of the instruments God uses to change bread and wine into His holy Body and Blood? And Father Antus did this nearly every day for over 50 years. In the 14 years Father served the Holy Family churches of Orr, Buyck and Cook, he said approximately 7,280 masses for our benefit...offering prayers for his parishioners, friends and benefactors, and bringing our Savior's Body and Blood to any who wanted to partake.... I find that simply amazing!
Father Larry taught us many lessons in faith; some that could only be described as unconventional, requiring a bit of head-scratching, as illustrated by this story.
I had just been elected to St. Mary's finance council. At our second meeting Father announced that we needed a new roof. The seasoned council members were not in agreement with him and, of course, questioned the need. Granted, it was in bad condition, but it wasn't leaking. And how could we pay $65,000 for a new roof while we still had an outstanding $50,000 mortgage loan with St. Martin's in Tower...all while operating on a $25,000 budget?
As the discussion ensued, becoming more heated, Father ended it gently by asking certain members of the council to get bids and get started on the project. Everyone sat in astonishment as Father simply proclaimed, "God will provide."
After our closing prayer, I asked Pat McDermott if this was their usual way of doing business. He nodded his head "yes" and said he wondered why we needed a finance council because in the end Father was always right..."God will provide" always trumps a poor balance sheet!
Father Larry believed in his parishioners, benefactors and God to keep things in order. Oh, by the way, two years after completion of the roofing project, both the roof loan and St. Martin's mortgage were paid in full... still on a $25,000 budget!
Father Larry Antus, Oblate Father of Mary Immaculate. He was with us so long that many looked upon him as a diocesan priest. But he did most of his work at parishes that were considered missions...like Holy Cross in Orr and St. Joseph's in Buyck. In his 50 years as an Oblate, he spent time in many other missions....Alaska, Denmark and Baudette to name a few. He was first and foremost an Oblate Priest...a missionary. And as a missionary, he had taken the additional vow of poverty, thus explaining his determination and drive in helping the poor.
Father had a "special" fund, separate from other parish funds, to help those in need. This fund was replenished from time to time by the generosity of the Catholic Council of Women, the parishioners of his three churches and some very giving friends around the country, all who steadfastly helped him feed, clothe and take care of the poor of our area. Father Larry was also instrumental in starting Cook's food shelf, which was initially located in the basement of his house. Later it was added to the new church garage.
As much as he loved giving...it was not without some serious doubt. At times he felt that maybe he was being taken advantage of... especially by those who came to him almost regularly with many, many requests. But his friends reminded him that his job was to provide for the poor and let God judge those who may be stealing the gifts meant for the truly needy.
One particularly hard winter and quickly depleting "special" fund had Father questioning himself again about who was getting assistance. All winter long he had helped a single parent with three children who was attending school. (And by help, I mean VERY extensive funding.) After this person earned a degree and her first paycheck, Father received a small check in the mail...a start on repayment. I never heard Father question giving again.
As I watched Father at his Prayer Park Dedication and Going-Away Party, people would walk up to him, thanking him and giving him cash as a little send-off gift of appreciation. Before he made it to the other end of the social hall, he was giving that money away to college students who were leaving that fall for school.
I asked him why he did that, as the money was meant for him. He simply replied, "College kids need pizza money."
So, as all of us know and have remarked, "As soon as Father put money in one pocket, it would find its way, just as fast, out the other."
I don't know how manyo f you realized that in the winter, Father ran the "No-Charge Motel" at St. Mary's. Our doors were always open and a pile of blankets could be found in the Crying Room. Those in need of shelter were welcome to sleep in a pew or on the carpeted floor. His only rules were that they smoke outside and walk an appropriate distance from the church entry if they really had to "go."
Father loved people — he truly did. I'm sure many of you have a "special" Father Larry story that you'll carry in your heart and retell to family and friends for years to come...just like Sara's.
You've probably noticed all the beautiful red roses decorating the church today. We had decided upon red carnations for Father's service, as they fit more into our budget. But Sara would have none of it. I quote Sara, "His favorite flowers were red roses... and he's going to GET red roses!" Red roses on a red carnation budget...Father would love that deal!
Just as Sara loved his always cheerful greeting: "How's the best florist in the whole wide world?" He and Sara had a payment system like no other. Father would say, "How much?" Sara would look at him and respond, "How much you got?" Father would slap down some bills on the counter (usually enough, sometimes not) and leave.
One day he showed up at the flower shop, looked at Sara and asked her what was wrong. She definitely was having a bad day. Seeing her distress, he left only to return a short time later with a BIG bowl of chicken soup. You see, the florist was more important than the flowers.
It's getting close to the timeto move onto Father's "famed" Beer 'N' Brats, and I would be remiss in not concluding with his classic funeral advice. I'm sure Warren and Betty will be nodding their heads when I say for Father Antus: 1) Go to church. 2) Keep the commandments. 3) Pray.
And finally, I'd like to end with Father's weekly message. "If you're going fishing, I hope you catch the biggest fish in the lake...but if you're just sitting under a shade tree with a cold glass of lemonade, I hope your lemonade is good."
Yours, too, Father. Yours, too.